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We All Have Countless Occupations

We All Have Countless Occupations

Currently, I am a first-year graduate student in the University of Florida’s master’s degree in occupational therapy program. In 17 months, I will be a certified BrOT (bro-tee). That’s what we call men who are occupational therapists. There actually aren’t many of us, but we’re growing in numbers.

All the time I get asked, “What the heck is occupational therapy”?” First, I break down “occupation.” Most people believe occupation equals vocation. Not necessarily. I envision an occupation as anything that occupies time, that you’re expected to do by society or that fills you with passion. Occupational therapy is a creative health profession that promotes the wellbeing of each client, across the lifespan, in body, mind and spirit through engagement in meaningful, daily experiences.

With that in mind, I believe we all have countless occupations. They’re like different hats we wear. For example, you could have the occupation of basketball player or digital design artist. The list is truly endless. Three interconnected occupations of mine that have, over the past year and a half, taught me tremendous amounts about myself and how to be a better human being include: student, son and spirituality.

Student: Back in October 2014, I was in the midst of knocking out exams. It was a Friday, and I was feeling relieved about the upcoming weekend. I was ready to take my “student” hat off and switch it with my “chill” occupational hat! I had just gotten out of class and was studying for an upcoming test. While looking over notes, I received a phone call from my mom.

Dad had recently been experiencing issues with peripheral vision. We thought that a change in prescription glasses would do the trick. But what surprised all of us was that an unplanned MRI found Dad to have three hemorrhagic (bleed) strokes.

After hearing this news over the phone, my whole world completely shook to its core. At that moment, I switched from my “student” occupation hat — threw that sucker to the ground as fast as possible — put on my “son” occupation hat, and drove down as quickly as I could to Orlando, my home away from the Swamp.

Son: In this role, I was expected, and wanted to as well, be there emotionally and spiritually for Mom and Dad. Another part of my role was to break down medical terminology and different health lingo to my dad about the phenomena inside his body.

Luckily, the stroke wasn’t severe. The only ramifications were visual and slight cognitive impairments. What Dad had lost in peripheral vision he has since gotten back, and his mind has returned to orchestrating his wacky, lovable self. Thanks be to God!

What a tough experience it was to see my parents go through that health scare. I’m the proud son of older parents. I was fortunate enough to be brought into this world right before menopause hit for Mom. Consequently, I’m experiencing family dynamics that my peers may not be going through right now, but will eventually as parental health deteriorates and life unfolds.

After the initial frightening and simultaneous awakening post-stroke, I found myself in a dark night of the soul. I felt like I couldn’t leave Orlando until Dad was discharged from the hospital, so I had to miss a couple days of class. That student hat that I had thrown forcefully to the ground now was starting to creep up my leg a bit and say, “Hey, you have this exam to make up. Don’t forget about me.” Gratefully, Dad was discharged, returned home, and everything was relatively well.

Spirituality: When I made it back to Gainesville I went through a time of palpable darkness and depression. What I turned to for support during uncertain times was spirituality. I found greater, nurturing connection to the divine through the United Church of Gainesville and Gainesville’s Shambhala Meditation Group.

All of this aided me in cultivating my capacities to be mindful of and grateful for the blessings in my life, and to focus on the power of the breath and the moment. We have the power and choice each second to live our lives with presence. We have the opportunity to live out of peace, light and joy.

Ultimately, this whole story of mine comes down to this: These three occupations (student, son, and spirituality) have helped foster me to become a more compassionate human being overall, and really more grateful, too. Grateful for each day we have. Grateful for each breath that fills my lungs. Grateful for each pump of my heart.

I look forward to seeing how occupational therapy will be a career that allows me to help remind others that they have life in them right now. Let’s keep fighting and working for the days ahead.

What occupational hats are on your hat rack?

Originally Published in the Self Narrate Column in the Gainesville Sun

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